Why Settle for Conventionality When Greatness May Be Around the Bend?

Last chance to register for Marvin Mattelson’s portrait drawing workshop in New York City!

A number of years ago Apple had a great advertising campaign entitled “Think Different!” It was quite brilliant, placing the emphasis on innovation by those who went against the norm. One would think that artists in particular would be able to relate to that, because by nature we are different than the majority of people who are non-artists. In lieu of that, I find it really amazing how fearful artists seem when it comes to thinking differently.  I guess there is comfort in the road most commonly traveled. It appears that far too many of us cling to convention as far as creating art goes. Thinking similarly? I tell my students, all the time, that conventional thinking makes for conventional artists.

Several weeks ago I went to a couple of auction previews at Christies and Sotheby’s as well as to an exhibit of contemporary realists. To me the Bouguereau painting entitled “Petite Berg” (see above) was by far the most impressive painting that I saw that day. It wasn’t great solely based on his technique, there were other paintings I viewed where the paint handling was top notch, but Bouguereau’s superior decision-making made it, for me, a far more compelling work of art. The way Bouguereau handled his color, edges, values, light and atmosphere put him in the league of his own. The great thing is, once you understand his thought process – which can be discerned in the works of all great artists – you can adapt these things to your own work in your own style and make yourself the best version of yourself, not a secondary clone of someone else.  It’s not about the application of paint, it’s about the application of knowledge.

Far too many who seek to be better artists think that the end-all is in achieving better technique. As a result the majority of students coming out the schools and teaching academies create work that looks eerily similar to their classmates. Based on the way paint is applied, the choice of colors, the composition and other telltale stylistic artifacts, the work tends to lack the handprint of the individual. When teaching is technique-centric what else can you expect?

There seems to be such a proliferation of artists out there consumed with understanding the exact techniques of any particular artist they admire. “If only I knew how so-and-so painted, then I could paint just like him/her.” Playing on this mind-set, manufacturers are now offering the traditional pigments and mediums used by artists of the past. Do you seriously think that’s going to make a difference? Not that it’s bad to use these materials, but it’s certainly not the end-all.

The truth of the matter is, it’s never the particular technique of any artist in question that makes them great.  In fact many great artists have changed their painting methodologies many times over the course of their careers. Don’t kid yourself, it’s the underlying thought process that makes great artists great. Yes, in my teaching I too cover a myriad of technical aspects – you still need a way to manifest your ideas on a canvas – but it’s this strategic thinking that lies at the heart of it all. It’s exactly what Michelangelo meant when he proclaimed, “A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.

So in my workshops and classes I offer a different point of view. This decision-making is at the heart of all my teaching. Once you understand it you will be able to forge your own path and no longer need to rely on technical convention.  So anyone looking to think differently should think about taking my drawing workshop which starts this coming Monday or my painting workshop which is scheduled for the second week of August, both at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

And it all starts with the drawing. To attend the drawing workshop please call 212-592-2200 or you may register online now. If you are interested in further information, you can read about the course here.

I’m also leading a 2 week workshop: Portrait Painting: The Real Deal from August 14-25. You can register online as well, or call 212-592-2200.

Until next time…

Marvin Mattelson Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop

June 5-9 @ The School of Visual Arts in New York City

I’ll be leading a drawing workshop at the School of Visual Arts in New York City from June 5-9 (9 AM- 5 PM daily).

I believe that my workshops are fundamentally different than those led by other people. My main focus it is on changing the way you think about making art. Mark Twain said it best, “When you do what you’ve done, you get what you’ve gotten.” If you want to be a better artist, you need to learn to think like a better artist. It’s not about learning a little trick or two and it certainly isn’t about learning more rules. But don’t worry, the course is packed with more technical information than you could ever imagine.

But why listen to me. Although I’ve been at every workshop I’ve ever led, I’ve never had the opportunity to actually experience one first-hand.  Then it hit me, wouldn’t the best explanation come from a former student who actually participated in one of my drawing workshops. So what follows is the text from an email that my former student, Mary Beth Lumley, sent to me following the workshop she took. I’ve also enclosed some pictures of her exquisite drawing for your viewing pleasure.

Marvin, how can I ever thank you for this week?? What a wonderful, eye-opening adventure it was. I so enjoyed meeting you and having the honor of spending time with you. I can’t wait to put what I’ve learned from you into action and have been working all morning to rearrange my condo (read also: life) to create space for the development of my artwork. I know I’m only one of hundreds of students you’ve encouraged and artists’ lives you’ve helped to transform, but you made me feel so special and have left an indelible impression on my art and my life.

Going into your drawing workshop, I had hoped to gain a fresh perspective and learn some fundamentals I could apply to what I already knew about drawing. I had no idea what I was about to experience. Like so many of your students, I thought I had some knowledge on the subject, but right away I realized the smartest thing I could do would be to leave behind what I knew and fully embrace your incredibly unique methodology. You didn’t just teach me to draw, you taught me to see — a universal skill I can apply to everything I create, regardless of the medium.

So few people have the ability to operate at the level you do artistically, but even fewer have the skills and desire to teach others how it’s done. You took what you learned about us as individuals and you developed custom, innovative teaching methods using them to push each of us to new levels. You understand how people learn and seem to genuinely thrive off of your students’ progress. Selfless with your wealth of knowledge, you jumped at any opportunity to share what you know with your students. After only six days, every one of us walked away with more knowledge than we could have ever hoped to achieve in that time-frame and for that amount of money. This workshop was, without a doubt, the best investment I’ve ever made in the development of my skills as an artist.

I cannot thank you enough for everything you taught me this week, Marvin. You are a spectacular teacher and person, and I will be counting down the days until I can study with you again.

Mary Beth Lumley

 

 

If you’d like to hear what others have said regarding their experience of studying with Marvin, you can read additional student feedback here.

To attend the drawing workshop please call 212-592-2200 or you may register online now. If you are interested in further information, you can read about the course here.

I’m also leading a 2 week workshop: Portrait Painting: The Real Deal from August 14-25. You can register online as well, or call 212-592-2200.

There will also be an open house at The School of Visual Arts on Thursday, May 11, at 6:30. I’ll be giving a short presentation about my summer workshops. I’d love to see you there and I’d definitely love to see you at the workshop.

Until next time…

Roots and Wings: The Tao of Teaching


Yesterday I received an email from my former student Roger Derrick, which jump-started this post in my mind. Roger wanted to show me some new works in progress. I was astonished to see how far he had come since being in my class. The goal of my teaching is to cultivate each student’s understanding of the underlying principles that inform the decision-making process, giving them the ability to come up with the appropriate course of action in any situation. This approach allows an artist to continue to develop just the way Roger has, through determination, hard work and applied logic.

Teaching is no different than parenting. When people learn that I am a father, the first thing they ask is, “Are your kids artists?” My reply is always, “No, they’re not me! They get to choose their own paths.”

Now, many parents want their children to follow in their footsteps. They want their kids to come back and ask for advice when there are important decisions to make, regardless of their age. Obviously, these parent’s intentions are good. They want what’s best for their children, but they base their counseling on their own priorities. It’s only natural to want what’s best for your offspring! Right? But natural for whom? I raised my children to think for themselves based on understanding and good judgment. I chose to support their interests rather than imposing my own. As a result, they grew up to be independent thinkers, more than capable of making their own life choices. I couldn’t be any prouder or happier of them, regardless of the paths they follow.

My goal as a teacher is the same as my goals as a parent, to allow my students to develop into the best artists they can be, and not a replication of myself. There’s a very famous poem by Dennis Waitley about parenting, entitled “Roots and Wings”. Here’s the poem:

If I had two wishes, I know what they would be
I’d wish for Roots to cling to, and Wings to set me free;
Roots of inner values, like rings within a tree;
and Wings of independence to seek my destiny.
Roots to hold forever to keep me safe and strong,
To let me know you love me, when I’ve done something wrong;
To show me by example, and helps me learn to choose,
To take those actions every day to win instead of lose.
Just be there when I need you, to tell me it’s all right,
To face my fear of falling when I test my wings in flight;
Don’t make my life too easy, it’s better if I try,
And fail and get back up myself, so I can learn to fly.
If I had two wishes, and two were all I had,
And they could just be granted, by my Mom and Dad;
I wouldn’t ask for money or any store-bought things.
The greatest gifts I’d ask for are simply Roots and Wings.

When it comes to teaching art there are two basic approaches:

1)You can teach what you do.

2)You can teach the underlying fundamental principles of understanding.

Those who teach what they do have very specific rules regarding not only technique but what to do in every given situation. In other words a strict edict to follow. Unfortunately this results in students whose work strongly mimics that of their teacher. The better the student, the closer the adherence. Everyone turns into a some version of the master!

I choose the fundamental understanding route. If you know why things work then you have choices in every given situation; you do what you do based on your artistic intent and not anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean I eschew technique. On the contrary, my teaching is very technical because it’s vitally important to have the ability to manifest the choices you’re making.

I love it when no apparent stylistic imprint of myself is evident in the work of a former student. It’s my understanding that Jean Leon Gerome – the great academic painter of the 19th Century and one of the most revered educators of his time – shared the same philosophy. This enabled him to develop students as diverse as Thomas Eakins and William McGregor Paxton. Each of those artists took what they learned and were able to form their own unique personality and point of view.

I thought about the past week, where I had the great privilege of seeing a new show of paintings by my former student, TM Davy, a series of beautiful unique and innovative paintings of horses at the 11R gallery in New York City. I also saw, on Facebook, two great paintings by former students Billy Norrby and Martin Wittfooth. I received an email from Steve Birmbaum, the Assistant Director of Media at SVA. Steve had interviewed another long ago student, Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), a highly successful Chelsea gallery artist. Steve wrote, “The interview went great and Brian had a lot of wonderful things to say about you and your class during his time at SVA.” A few weeks ago, I learned another of my past students, Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, was developing, for 20th Century Fox Animation, a feature film based on “The Dam Keeper”, his 2015 Academy Award-nominated animated short. The incredible thing about all these artists is that you would never know they all studied with the same teacher. They took their roots and flew to the heavens.

This week my new continuing education classes at the School of Visual Arts will be starting. It’s a perfect opportunity to self-reflect and ask yourself, “Do I follow in someone else’s footsteps or do I want to grow roots and wings?”

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Fridays
12:00PM – 6:00PM  • Jan 27 – Apr 21 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Friday class or call 212.592.2200.

Portrait Painting: The Real Deal • Saturdays
10:00AM – 4:00PM  • Jan 28 – April 29 • 12 Sessions
Register online now for the Saturday class or call 212.592.2200.

For more information please call the Department of Continuing Education at 212.592.2050 or go to this page on my website.

These classes may also be taken for undergraduate credit. Please call the registrar at 212.592.2200 to register or to find out more information.

A special bonus field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view and analyze some of greatest portraits in the collection will take place on a Sunday afternoon.

 

Where To Draw The Line; Marvin Mattelson’s SVA Summer Drawing Workshop

“Matt-Ellrod-2192"Workshop drawing by Matt Ellrod

G. K. Chesterton once observed, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” For advice on morality you should seek spiritual guidance, but as far as where to draw a line, I think I may be able to help. I will be leading a portrait drawing workshop at the School of Visual Arts here in the heart of New York City from June 6-10.

Workshop drawing by Mandy BisestiWorkshop drawing by Mandy Basesti

In this workshop you will learn to create a portrait drawing using charcoal and white chalk on toned paper. It’s my take on a technique used by the great French draftsman Pierre-Paul Prud’hon in the late 18th and early 19th century. This technique, which actually dates back many hundreds of years prior to Prud’hon, allows you to develop a drawing in much less time than simply drawing on white paper. For that reason many artists such as Sir Anthony Van Dyck and Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun (both of which are currently featured in museum retrospectives here in NYC) have used this technique to save themselves valuable time.

Workshop Drawing by Carole KatzWorkshop Drawing by Carole Katz

Although the technical aspects of making a finished drawing will be covered in great detail, the primary focus of this workshop is learning to see proportions and tones more accurately. This will greatly enhance your ability to not only capture a faithful likeness, but also to better assess values, allowing you to render form more effectively. In class we will be working exclusively from live models. I will be demonstrating and explaining all aspects of my drawing methodology and the underlying concepts that govern my actions. You will come away from the workshop with a deeper understanding and a sound strategy for approaching any subject.

Workshop Drawing by Barry GraysonWorkshop Drawing by Barry Grayson

You will learn how to develop the illusion of three-dimensional form bathed in light and surrounded by air. Whether your goal is to improve your drawing for its own sake, or to enhance your drawing skills as a conduit to further improving your paintings, this workshop will provide you with the tools necessary to draw with more confidence.

Workshop drawing by Paul BeaudoinWorkshop drawing by Paul Beaudoin

Throughout this article you are seeing recent drawings by my workshop students. These drawings were done in approximately one day, not obsessively rendered over a period of either weeks or months. Notice the diversity of stylistic approaches. Rather than dogmatically insisting that my students draw in a particular way, my goal is to assist you in becoming the best possible version of yourself.

Workshop drawing by Pete GrillWorkshop drawing by Pete Grill

On Wednesday, May 11, there will be a Fine Arts Information Session: Painting, Drawing, Sculpture and Printmaking at the School Visual Arts at 133/141 W. 21st Street, room 602C, sixth floor from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. I’ll be there if you have any questions about my drawing workshop or my two-week portrait workshop from August 8-19, or just want to stop by and say hello.

Workshop drawing by Matt EllrodWorkshop drawing by Matt Ellrod

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 6 – 10, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200

11 Day Realistic Portrait Painting Workshop
August 1 – 12, 2016 • 9:00AM – 5:00PM • No class August 7.
Find out more information about the workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200
This course may also be taken for credit. Please call the registrar’s office @ 212.592.2200 for more information.

“When you do what you’ve done, you get what you’ve gotten.” Mark Twain

Marvin Mattelson Summer Workshops at SVA@NYC

Edward_Cripps_full

Recent Posthumous Portrait of Edward Cripps by Marvin Mattelson

Contrary to popular belief, doing the same thing over and over doesn’t necessarily make you better. Many great achievers, such as Mark Twain, have echoed this same sentiment. For example, the writer/philosopher Rita Mae Brown has stated, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

If you want to become a better painter, you need to transform the way you think about making paintings. Simply put, the idea of going to a workshop and picking up a trick or two is not going to make a significant difference in the quality of the work you do. “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading,” cautioned Lao Tzu.

So if doing what you’ve always done isn’t the answer, what is? Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” If you want to achieve greatness you need to approach what you do with the same mindset as the greatest painters in history. I have dedicated my life to uncovering the common threads that bind the greatest classical artists, such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velasquez, Van Dyck, Raeburn, Lawrence, DeCamp and Paxton.

This summer I’ll be sharing my observations at the School of Visual Arts in New York City during my one-week portrait drawing workshop and my two-week oil portrait painting workshop. In the past, people have made remarkable progress in a very condensed time period. Your mileage may vary. Hope to see you there.

5 Day Realistic Portrait Drawing Workshop
June 6 – 10, 2016
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200

11 Day Realistic Portrait Painting Workshop
August 1 – 12, 2016 – No class August 7.
Find out more information about this workshop
Register online or call 212.592.2200
This course may also be taken for credit. Please call the registrar’s office @ 212.592.2200 for more information.

Edward_Cripps_hs